Can climate events in the southern hemisphere affect crops in the north?

A Columbia University study finds that El Niño-Southern Oscillation is behind low crop production in the US, China

Published: Wednesday 10 July 2019

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) majorly affects the regions of South America, Australia, South East Asia and India. But now, ENSO has impacted agricultural production in the US and China too, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University.

The study, published in Science Advances, estimated how much different modes of climate variability affect crops such as corn, wheat and soy. The researchers analysed how climate variability such as ENSO influences drought and heat in major crop growing regions. ENSO has forced multiple breadbasket failures, including a significant one in 1983, found the study.

The assumption, until now, has been that widespread crop failures are a result of random, adverse weather events. Corn is the most susceptible to such crop failures, with 18 per cent of year-to-year changes in production, found the study.

Soybeans (7 per cent) and wheat (6 per cent) were found to be less at risk for simultaneous failures, with climate variability.

The worst-affected are farmers in developing countries as they do not have formal insurance products or other coping mechanisms.

The study’s results underscore the potential opportunity to manage such climate risks, which can be predicted using seasonal climate forecast. This should improve efforts to avoid food insecurity and provide emergency food assistance when needed.

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